15 November 2015

The Flightline: Gunships, Attack Helicopters, Tiltrotor Gunships

There are few moments in video games more memorable than when you control the firepower of the gunship in the original Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. We gamers felt like gods of slaughter raining down bolts of death like Zeus on high. Beyond the realm of video games, we all have seen those spooky thermal attack videos from Afghanistan and the power of those Angels of Death on the modern battlefield is undisputed. That fact is not lost on the future military planners and military science fiction. To me, there is nothing quite like the deadly beauty of the AC-130 gunship rolling up above up, and unleashing hell upon your enemy, and after a recent replay of the original COD:MW, I decided it was time to discuss this important military vehicle. In this blogpost, FWS will write about the various roles that the Attack Helicopter, ATTG, and Gunships occupy and will continue to occupy in future conflicts.

What is an Gunship and What is its Combat Role?
The term "gunship"came from the naval "gunboat", and is a catch-all terminology applied to a number of aerial vehicles current and future. In its current usage, gunships are heavily armed aircraft, either fixed-wing or rotor, that are specially designed to attack ground targets and providing close air support (CAS) from a stable aerial platform. These aircraft are often fitted with a number of weapon systems to meet various tactical situations. Gunships can range from the god-of-war AC-130 "Specter" fixed-wing aircraft to helicopters armed for protection duties, to even tiltrotor aircraft. Gunships could be armed soon with directed energy weapon systems, like the cancelled Boeing YAL-1 project.

What is an Attack Helicopter and What is its Combat Role?
Basically, the Attack Helicopters is designed to assault ground targets with a variety of armaments. This helicopter is not normally designed with transportation in mind, but air-to-surface attack. While the helicopter would be first used in World War II and the Korean War in a support role, the concept of a slow-speed aircraft to attack tanks and ground targets will be pioneered during the 2nd World War by Major Charles Carpenter with his L-4 Grasshopper armed with six anti-tank bazookas. In 1944, Carpenter and his "Rosie the Rocketeer" knocked out four German armored vehicles by top-attack them during the Battle of Arracourt. By the time of Vietnam, Helicopters were becoming a critical piece of military technology and battlefield tactics.
While the UH-1 and the Mil Mi-4 could be and were armed, they were more armed transports than pure attack aircraft. The first true attack helicopter designed for the job was the Bell AH-1 Cobra. It would be used extensively in the Vietnam Conflict, and would pave the way for others in its classification. It would take the dick-measuring contest between NATO and the Warsaw Pact to see the evolution of the next role of the Attack Helicopter: tank hunter/killer. With the armored vehicle numerical superiority on its side, the Warsaw Pact could have easily overwhelmed the technologically-superior-but- smaller-number NATO tank force during a land war in West Germany. To even the odds, the NATO nations developed several attack helicopters, like the American Apache, for tank hunting-and-killing. While a land war in Europe never happened, the tactics and technology were used in the 1991 and 2003 Invasions of Iraq with great effect. Today, in the war on terror, the attack helicopters are providers of death from above to aid ground unit. We've all seen the gun-cam videos of Apaches hunting terrorists. All of this makes the Attack Helicopter a flexible war machine and a king of air-to-surface attacks.

What is an ATTG and What is its Combat Role?
Tiltrotor aircraft are the combination of a prop-plane and an helicopter that allows for flexibility. The V-22 Osprey Tiltrotor is an thed first tiltrotor in military service and an revolution in military aircraft, and they could be the near-replacement for the helicopter, or also a stepping stone to ducted fan aircraft. While the V-22 is an awesome aircraft, it is basically a combat bus with some machine guns. In 2013, Bell revealed the 3rd generation V-280 "Valor", this medium lift tiltrotor would be a logical replacement for the Blackhawk and Apache, if we are to believe Bell. This would make the V280 Valor the first Advanced Tactical Tiltrotor Gunship (ATTG). However, some believe that tiltrotors will not fully take over military rotary aircraft, and that tiltrotors make a poor substitute. Some believe that ducted fan aircraft will be the true replacement to the helicopter.

How Are Gunships and Attack Helicopters/Tiltrotors Different?
In terms of mission, they are not completely different. They are designed to provide aerial fire support to ground unit or to target enemy ground units and wiped them out. In the classic sense, the gunship is designed around supporting ground units, often providing close air support to help out a desperate situation on the ground in a more defensive role. Attack helicopters and tiltrotors are more predators, hunting down their targets and destroying them. While they do aide ground units when the shit gets thick, they are more offensive, attacking, not just defending. In terms of size, they are very different.
While there are modified military helicopters designed around escort missions and are classified as gunships, along with attack helicopters like the Hind-D and the AH-64 Apache, the typical military gunship, like the AC-130, is a converted cargo transport. This is due to these types of aircraft being able to carry the weight of the weapon systems and the ammunition. They brings us to another difference: weapons. Gunships are often armed with larger weapon packages that are most gun, not missiles. While attack helicopters are mostly armed with missile system, guided and dumb-fire, with a few machine guns. This loadout can be varied based on mission role as well, not some much in the gunship.
Lastly, these types of armed ground-attack aircraft are different based on propulsion types. Attack helicopters and ATTG tiltrotors are just that: helicopters and tiltrotors. However, the gunship is a little confused. In the  modern military, the gunship is mostly referring to an fixed-wing propeller aircraft. But, that is not always the case. At times, we will attack helicopters that can transport a limited number of troop a "gunship" like the Russian Hind-D or the Republic LAAT/i, or the Imperium Valkyrie. Given this, gunships can be either propeller-driven aircraft, or fan ducted, or VTOL thrusters, depending on the person's POV.

Armed Transport or Gunship or Attack Helicopter/Tiltrotor?
Confusion is natural when it comes to labelling terms used for military vehicles. Much like dropship, the term gunship is one of those terms that is used to describe different types of military vehicles, in the real-world and sci-fi. Adding to the confusion is the type of aircraft that are used for the role of attack helicopter and gunship. At times, transport vehicles are given an increase in weaponry to allow them to fulfill the role of gunship, like the Raptor shuttle from BSG. Even in the modern military, transport helicopters are given improved weapons packages to fulfill the role of gunship or attack helicopter. This is seen with the UH-60 Blackhawks and the UH-1 Hueys. Other types, gunships pull doubt duty, being a troop bus and an gunship.
This is seen in science fiction with the Colonial Marines UD-4L Cheyenne, the AH-6 Little Bird, and the Mil Mil Mi-24 Hind-D. Both are designed around delivering soldiers to the battlefield, like a transport, but then are fitted with enough weapons to act as an attack craft. Of course, there are specifically designed attack helicopters, like the AH-64 Apache and the Russian Mil Mi-28 Havoc. Why do military organizations do this? Money. It is cheaper to buy a single aircraft and have it modified based on role than specially designed and buy specialized aircraft. This is very true of the V-22 Osprey, and why there is not yet an ATTG tiltrotor. All of this makes the naming game difficult and one that really depends on your POV with regards to these labels.

Propulsion Types:
One thing that separates the different types of aircraft used for the various roles of gunship and attack craft are the types of propulsion.

All of the military gunships so far have been fixed-wing cargo vessels modified for the role of ground attack aircraft. The C-47 and C-130 both were modified into the legendary gunships that were Grim Reapers of the sky. This foundation of cargo planes allowed for an excellent heavy weapons platform and slower speeds to allow maximum time on target and on hot standby. However, this also means that gunships are slower fatter targets for enemy AAA and interception. Coupled with the need for a runway and mechanical maintenance teams.

Traditional Rotors
Traditional rotors that are used on attack helicopters and helicopter gunships have been a staple of military aircraft since the Cold War. The use of traditional rotary systems allows the hovering associated with helicopters and angles of attack. In addition, since helicopters have been used for decades in military service, they are easier to construct attack aircraft and maintain than the newer tiltrotors. However, helicopters are slower than tiltrotors and vulnerable to AAA systems and retrofitted anti-aircraft weapons like the classic Soviet-era RPG-7. Currently, the US Army is looking at pusher propeller technology for faster helicopter-like aircraft

While the tiltrotor and the helicopter are similar rotary-based aircraft that operate in a similar manner, the tiltrotor is considered more versatile and speed is the greatest advantage, while complexity is the greatest disadvantage. Tiltrotors can maneuver their rotor motors (two or four) into various position, allowing for different flight operations. With the rotors facing upwards, the tiltrotor allows for VTOL and hovering, like an helicopter. As the rotors are pitched forward, the speed increases. With the rotors face completely forwards, the tiltrotors is like a propeller driven aircraft. It is believed that until quad-rotor tiltrotors, there will not an tiltrotor aircraft used as the foundation for an conventional gunship that can take the place of gunships constructed on the foundation of the cargo planes, like the AC-130.

VTOL thrusters
In realm of science fiction and some examples in service with current military organizations, VTOL thrusters are fitted to aircraft to allow for a blending of helicopter take off and landing abilities. VTOL thrusters are seen on a majority of sci-fi vehicles like the UD-4L Cheyenne, the ISSAPC from Space: Above and Beyond, and the Skynet Aerial Hunter-Killers. However, VTOL thrusters are in use currently with V/STOL attack aircraft like the American Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II strike fighter and the British Harrier jump jet. These ducted fan systems allow these fighters to have short take-off and landing capabilities. There are no thruster VTOL vehicles in the real-world as seen in science fiction yet existence, especially ones capable of lifting off from the ground and achieving breakaway velocity into orbit. One of the few very researched by a military organization was the Ryan XV-5 Vertifan and the Lockheed XV-4 Hummingbird in the mid-1960's.

Ducted Fan
Ducted fan technology is nothing new, but sci-fi works and creators love to insert into their fictional world as "it's the future!" trope. Ducted fan aircraft are more rare than the standard helicopters, and often today, the ducted fan technology is used for RC hobby aircraft. One of the current ducted fan aircraft's in use is the F-35. There have been some ducted fan aircraft that have entered in mass production, but none that are similar to the Hunter-Killers from Terminator. Ducted Fans are an mechanical fan is housed within a cylinder. The advantage is that ducted fan are more efficient, but it runs at an higher rate, and this can create issues, like higher maintenance needs and vibration. What could limit an ducted fan attack craft is the inability to mount high angle of attack due to stalling.

Anti-Gravity/Hover Gunships
When technology gets to a certain point, you begin to see the fusing of certain types of machinery into one. Think of the almighty Smartphones of today that wiped out older standalone items like the pager, PDA, electronic datebook, casual camera, some handheld video games. The same could be true of VTOL/Anti-Gravity technology. Anti-Gravity technology could blur the line between tank and classical airborne gunship, like WH40K with the Tau armored vehicles like the Devilfish and Sky Ray. Some of these hover tanks also use the name "gunship" to describe themselves, which further obscures the name "gunship" via the loose use of the term "gunship" leading to further confusion among the sci-fi community. Certainly, VTOL is important for any attack aircraft, and one of the future technologies often used by creators of science fiction to expand upon VTOL is the almighty anti-gravity (A/G). Often, anti-gravity is used in sci-fi on armored vehicles (Regenade Legion) and aerospace vehicles (Star Wars). As I said above, if anti-gravity could exists, than its usage will certainly blur the lines between attack aircrafts, tanks, and gunships. If you could combine all of these armed military vehicles into one platform that would allow an armored military vehicle to hover, float, and be stationary without the need for complex VTOL propulsion systems, or it would lessen the size of VTOL thrusters, making these craft easier to maintain. This could cut down on the number of different military vehicles as well.
If we are to believe in that the UFO seen in the skies for thousands of years are mostly A/G equipped aerocraft, than we can see the blurred lines of these vehicles. An A/G equipped military vehicle could be just an gunship or attack craft, eliminating the need for other types of military aerocraft. There are even those that believe that A/G equipped vehicles could serve in several roles, like tank and gunship. Of course, all of these is speculation...we have no real science to inform of us of the reality of anti-gravity technology and it application. Dreamland has not released that data...yet.

The Future of the Gunship, Attack Helicopter, and the ATTG
It is highly likely that helicopters will continue to be in-service for some time and it does look like tiltrotors or ducted fan aircraft will not fully replace military helicopters any time soon. In fact, there is no ducted fan vehicles being worked on by military organizations since the 1960s and the only the similar turbo fan is used for VTOL attack airplanes like the F-35. With the battlefield becoming more fluid and the MBT becoming lighter, the need for CAS via an aerial vehicle will remain. We could see the current quad-copter drone technology applied to military micro-attack/support dronecraft like the MQ-27 Dragonfly from COD:Black Ops II. 
These could serve as very local CAS assets in the near future, and even be deployable from a backpack. Given the size, the dronecraft would be limited in offensive/defensive systems, however, the model could be applied to larger UAV gunships that could be on-station for days for local assets to task them for support during engagements. Imagine on-the-ground units needing heavy fire support, and all they have to do is have their combat air controller to dial up the local orbiting gunship, and rain down sweet death to their enemies...of course, it would suck if the enemy hacked these larger UAV gunships. When it comes to the traditional gunship, like the AC-130, we will not see a new retrofitted cargoplane death dealer until sometime after the 2024 timeframe. That is when the US Air Force wants to have an replacement for the C-130 Hercules. Likely, any replacement for the C-130 would be the natural replacement for the AC-130 Spectre as well.
What about attack helicopters and the ATTG? We will continue to see attack helicopters used on the near-future battlefield, but they will be smaller than current attack helicopters and certainly stealth and next-gen materials will allow a faster, sleek, stealthy attack craft, similar to the cancelled RAH-66 "Comanche" next-gen US Army helicopter from 1993-2004. It is possible we could see a return to that type of attack helicopter platform. I personally believe that given current fiscal projections, military organizations will be attempting to make the most out of an already proven platform, much like car companies. This could mean that helicopter and tiltrotor transport platforms will be retrofitted for use as gunship/attack roles, much like the proposed Bell V-280 Valor.  

Future Military Application of these types of Aircraft
It would be a pain-the-ass to mount an major military operation, especially planetary invasion, on a world lightyears away from their home systems. Modern and future warfare would require combined arms, and close air support and air mobility are critical to the success of ground combat elements. A temporary solution would be to use vehicles similar to the Pelican from HALO or the UD-4L Cheyenne from ALIENS where it could could go from ship-to-shore with penalty of firepower. But any endo/exo combat vehicle would not be permanent solution, any major hit to the hull of the vehicle would render it grounded (as we have seen with the NASA Space Shuttle Orbiter), and it would eat fuel operating in a gravity well. The permanent solution would be drop an ducted-fan gunship and troop transport vehicles down from the mothership to provide the same role in a planetary military operation. Of course, these are heavier manned aerial vehicles, and we will UAV gunships used on the future battlefield on this world and others. 

My Own Experiences with the term "Gunship"
During the mid-1980's, my older (and only) brother were freaks for science fiction, wargames, and military history. This blurred over to our mutual activities in Lego-based wars using our own RPG stat system. Yep, we constructed Lego future armies and space fleets, stat'ed them, and fought one another. While my brother loved fighters and space warships, I was more of a groundpounder. This led to me developing all manner of futuristic anti-gravity tanks, tactical transports, and the gunship. After watching The Terminator, I was an Hunter-Killer of my own, but I couldn't figure out what to call my own Hunter-Killer like aerocraft in my own stat-book. I came across the term "gunship" in a Jane's book referring to the Soviet Hind-D attack helicopter, and I constructed my own hybrid Hind-D/Skynet HK gunship. During my first engagement with my brother, my squadron of four Jaguar class Heavy Gunships wiped out several tank/IFV units, allowing my Airborne units to storm his base. From that point onward, the term "gunship" meant, to me, an future attack helicopter-like aerocraft that used thrusters or inducted fans or anti-gravity pods to hover, stalk, and kill.

Gunships and Science Fiction
Some terms are just fucking cooler than others, and those terms are used by a majority of creators for their sci-fi to more easily explain their futuristic invention and they are within the "rule of cool" trope. Much like "powered armor" or "dreadnought", the term "gunship" is used to cover a wide selection of futuristic aerial vehicles. Much like dropships, the term gunships covers a vast array of futuristics endo/exo vehicles. Most are an attempt to show vehicles that behave in a similar manner and fulfill a similar mission role to the modern helicopter or tiltrotor. They can be completely devoted to combat missions or be a multi-mission vehicle, like the Star Wars Republic LAAT/i or the Imperial Valkyrie transport from WH40K. Gunships can also variants of tactical transports, like the iconic HALO Pelican or the ALIENS UD-4L Cheyenne. With the term "gunship" being cemented into the culture, it is likely that it will continue to be used for helicopter-like craft and heavily armed tactical transports.

Attack Helicopters and Science Fiction
At one time, helicopters were the vehicle of choice for the future. In the 1930's Just Imagine, personal helicopters had replaced cars as transportation. Even in the Starship Troopers 1959 novel, Rico had an expensive helicopter. While the attack tiltrotor and the gunship are well represented in science fiction, the attack helicopter is not. There was a time when the attack helicopter was a popular concept in sci-fi and mass media, but that was the 1980's. During the 1980's, there was no less than two television shows devoted to advanced helicopters: Airwolf (which I watched) and Blue Thunder. This trend of attack helicopters popped up into sci-fi, mostly in wargames, like Battletech. While it is a safe bet that helicopters will be a platform for military aircraft for sometime, their inclusion in science fiction is more rare due to the helicopter looking less futuristic than the VTOL or tiltrotor.

Attack Tiltrotors and Science Fiction
While the concept of tiltrotors goes back to the 1930's, there has only been one, the V-22 Osprey, that has seen successful military adoption. However, the concept of the tiltrotor has not been lost on creators of sci-fi. Given that the V-22 Osprey object has been in the works since 1981, and other military tiltrotors appeared in a number of military magazines, this type of aircraft was added into near-future military works to project the "this is the future" angle or even the "rule of cool" trope. This was true of the M-100 tiltrotor gunship that appeared in Ralph Peters 1991 book The War in 2020 and the V-44 Quad-rotor like aircraft that appears in Edge of Tomorrow,and in most animes like Ghost in the Shell and Appleseed. This has given the tiltrotor aircraft the role of futuristic helicopter in most works. What is interesting about tiltrotors in fiction vs. the real world, is the appearance of the ATTGs (tiltrotor gunships). In the real-world, there are no delicated tiltrotor gunship and only one on the drawing board, the V280 Valor. With other military tiltrotors being developed, it is likely that the trend in sci-fi will continue of tiltrotors being viewed has the helicopter-like aircraft of the future.


The EarthForce Valkyrie Gunship from the B5 Universe
In one of the best and most military sci-fi episodes of B5: GROPOS (S2x10 1995) we see an EarthForce expeditionary force stopping by the B5 station on their way to Akdor, to aid the besieged Sh'Lassen Triumvirate government from a bloody civil war. This expeditionary force is impressive show of force by the Earth Alliance, Nova class dreadnoughts, and troop ships ferry 25,000 GROPOS or EarthForce Marines. Stowed inside the ships is several GROPOS Valkyrie class endoatompsheric gunships. Only seen for a few seconds at the end of the episode, these VTOL insect-like attacking the Fortress of Matok as several burn in the background. Truly, a haunting scene and one of the best in the series...despite some bad writing in the episode.
While never given a name in the episode, it was the later ground combat miniature game called GROPOS by Agents of Gaming that gave us some information on this VTOL gunship and a name..and a cool miniature! The Valkyrie is primary surface-to-air attack VTOL craft, but it can also operate in the vacuum of space. The V/STOL thrusters are mounted in the body, while the twin booms extending along the sides of the Valkyrie house twin missile launchers. The primary armament is a dual-barred chin-mounted pulse DEW. The Valkyrie was designed by Steven Burg and based around the AH-64 Apache. With the Agents of Gaming going out of business and I am unable to get my hands on the EarthForce GROPOS manual, I cannot add any information from the wargame. One day...

The Airwolf Next-Generation Covert Attack Helicopter/Scout from the Airwolf TV Series
During the 1980's, there was no less than two American television shows devoted to next-generation helicopters: Blue Thunder and Airwolf. From 1984-1986 Airwolf aired on CBS, then moved over to USA for a single season in 1987. This show was centered around a next-generation military attack/scout helicopter that operated beyond the physical limits of an helicopter, including operating at 11,000 feet and flying at Mach 2 with the aid of thrusters. It was armed with 30mm cannons, several 12.7mm cannons, and ventral-mounted rocket/missile launchers. The loadout changed from show-to-show, and by the time of the 4th season at USA, the Airwolf had an Laser DEW system.
The concept behind the Airwolf attack helicopter was to be state-of-the-art helicopter that appeared to be civilian, and when the time was right, it could pop out its weapons package, or a wolf in sheep's clothing. In the in-universe show, it was crewed by three and cost $4 million in 1984 dollars. In the show, the main characters served an group with the CIA, called "the firm", and the Airwolf prototype was hidden from interested parties in a Southwestern desert mesa. This struggle for control of Airwolf was one of the main themes of the show. In reality, the Airwolf helicopter was constructed around the Bell 222, specifically serial number 47085. After the show, that specific Bell 222 was sold and made into an air ambulance in Germany. In 1992, it crashed, killing the crew of 3. Be warned! Airwolf is pure 80's cheese, and the theme song is super hard to get out of your head once heard.

The GI Joe Skyhawk VTOL Attack Craft from the GI JOE: Real American Hero toyline
The Skyhawk VTOL attack aircraft was used by the GI Joe SPECOPS team as a low-cost VTOL armed aircraft, in place of attack helicopters and other larger aircraft. Unlike attack helicopters, the Skyhawk is deployed in larger groups to offset their weakness and maximize their strengths. Armed with 20mm auto cannons, miniguns, and two missiles, the Skyhawk was a nasty little pest to COBRA. I actually had this very toy back in the 1980's, and I can remember when this unique and very cool vehicle made an appearance the GI Joe Marvel comic book. The Skyhawk VTOL attack craft toy came out in 1985 and discontinued in 1986, and was one cool vehicle. However, it was not made sturdy, and the plastic around the VTOL engines could and did break, and the tail armor plates fell off all the time. I actually superglued the plates into place.

The "Blue Thunder" Next-Generation Police Helicopter from Blue Thunder (1983)

One of the forgotten films of the 1980's was the oddball film about a next-generation police helicopter and the crew that pilots the Blue Thunder around metro LA. This advanced military-grade police helicopter was designed to counter civil unrest for the upcoming Olympic games with offensive armaments, stealth technology, and 1983-art-of-the-art surveillance gear. This allowed the Blue Thunder to assist police during urban operations, engage hostiles, and watch people fuck. The actually helicopter was a France Aerospatiale Gazelle SA-341G with some Apache parts bought for $190.000. It is believed that the film producers wanted an AH-64 Apache, but were turned down by the military. This film spawned a short-lived television series that lasted only 11 episodes that could was cancelled due to Airwolf. 

The G-Police VTOL Gunships from G-Police Video Game (1997)

One of the best games on the original PlayStation was 1997's G Police. This was set in 2097 on a off-world domed colony on the Jovian moon of Callisto. Here corporations, gangs, organized crime, and the government battle for control. The Government Police, or the GP, instead of using patrol cars, they use the armed VTOL thruster DASA-Kamov AG-60 "Havoc" attack craft mostly called gunships in the game and it is hinted that they are military surplus. Throughout the game, the armaments change for the gunships, and by the end missions, you are flying a god-of-war. This game was quite enjoyable back in the day of the original PlayStation, and I actually owned it. The mechanics of the VTOL were well done as well as the armament. This is one of the few games I've run across that centers around an VTOL gunship. Here's to hoping they make an PS4 update of G-Police!

The  Imperial Navy "Vulture"  Gunship from Warhammer 40K 
While the Space Marines get all of the attention in the WH40K universe, the bulk of the Imperial armed forces is composed of the Imperial Guard, and one of the ways these brave soldiers of the Imperium of Man get to the battlefield is the Valkyrie VTOL airborne assault transport. While these Valkyrie are armed, armored infantry buses that can serve as an gunship, there are specifically designed gunships designed for attack, support, and escort roles. One of these is the Imperial Navy Vulture gunship. The Vulture gunships is specifically designed for the role of attack aircraft, unlike the Valkyrie and is exclusively used by the Imperial Navy. This endoatmospheric-only aircraft's armament can be modified to suit the tactical environment, and these are generally used to support Imperial Guard units in air-to-surface close air support, but cannot the Vulture is too slow to engage in air-to-air engagement.

The Umbrella Corporation ATTG from Resident Evil:Afterlife and Resident Evil: Retribution
Okay, before we begin with the discussion of these rare examples of an ATTG in a film let me just say that I think these film are shit. Pure shit. Now that I've got that off of my chest, let us move on with this entry. In the last two most recent Resident Evil films, we see a horde of the ATTGs owned by the Umbrella Corporation. These are not just transport vehicles, but also heavily armed with miniguns and missile launchers. These unnammed sheath ATTG are modeled after V-22 Osprey, and were entirely a product of CGI and were designed Rob McCallum. Honestly, there is no information on these ATTGs, which is part and parcel to the entire lame Resident Evil series. It is too bad, too. The Umbrella Corp ATTG is one of the best looking fictional tiltrotors.

The Durant Class Sub-Orbital Gunship from Endangered Species
In my own military sci-fi, I created the Durant class sub-orbital gunship as an integral piece of military hardware of off-world combat. This aerocraft was armed with an rapid-fire 88mm cannon with warhead munition types. Twin 40mm rotary cannons, and one 60mm explosive launcher. This craft was designed to be deployable by an warship without the need for complex ferrying system. This was normally the first aerocraft deployed by an invasion force, given its ability to operate in near exo-atmospheric conditions. The Durant class was named for Nightstalker CW4 Michael Durant, but the specific gunships seen in the novel were named for Motorhead songs. Yep, that Motorhead. I was a big Motorhead fan back-in-the-day, and even had their patch on a jean jacket in the late 1980's. It seemed only fitting to have gunships named after one of the most badass speed-metal bands in the world, especially since they have a song called "bomber". I plan on using more Motorhead song titles for future gunships.

The Republic LAAT/i "Gunship" from the Star Wars Universe
One of the most impressive vehicles of the Prequel films was the Low Altitude Assault Transport/Infantry (LAAT/i). To most fans, it was simply the "republic gunships". This endoatmospheric repulsor troop transport was heavily armed, allowing for the LAAT/i to serve as also an attack aircraft. This craft quickly became one of the symbols of the Clone Wars and the Republic war effort. This warhorse of the war against the CIS was readily built and fielded through the galactic front, and why it was cheap to produce, the LAAT/i did have two weakness: lack of exoatmospheric ability and the large crew needs. Unlike a number of Star Wars military craft, the LAAT/i could not venture into space, and instead had to be deployed in atmosphere by landing craft.
There was a later variant that was dual atmospheric. During the Clone War, the Republic lost a fair number of LAAT/i gunships, and with it, at least 4-6 crewmembers. That is a high number of clonetroopers to lose, and by the end of the Clone Wars, the ball-turret mounted in the wings were often left unmanned. The cool thing about the LAAT/i was that is specifically designed for the film to serve in a role similar to the armed troop/transport helicopter with design elements of the old Soviet Mil Mi-24 Hind-D gunship. The LAAT/i toy (Lego and non-Lego) have always been a coverted object for me to add to my collection.

Various VTOL Gunships from the Call of Duty Universe
With the Call of Duty franchise entering the nearly future with Black Ops II and III along with Ghosts, futuristic VTOL tiltrotor-like aircrafts began to appear, like the Razorback from COD: AW. Many were based around the V-22 Osprey in overall design aesthetics, but with VTOL thrusters or ducted fan from various other futuristic aerocraft, like the Skynet aerial Hunter-Killer. These VTOL craft are often the vehicle-of-choice for the heroes and villains, and are an nasty VTOL gunship is featured in score-streak awards cross a few games. While the presence of these nearly unnamed VTOL military aircraft are not well developed in the COD lore, the mere presence of them in the near-future games speaks to the commonly held ideas of how military aircraft will change.

The AT-99 "Scorpion" Attack VTOL Rotor from AVATAR

In the fleet of aircraft that populate the RDA operations on Pandora, we have this attack VTOL ducted fan aircraft: the AT-99 Scorpion. This little attack craft was designed for standard air-to-surface attacks and CAS, but on Pandora, the Scorpion was assigned to escort and guard duty for units outside of the wire. According to sources, the Scorpion was designed to counter terrorist EMP technology that knocked out drone/UAVs. The base Scorpion was armed with four 12.7mm machine guns, missiles, rockets and all of this was controlled by a single pilot. There was a badass toy made of the Scorpion...need to add that to my "future office" collection.

The Southern Cross AJACS VFH-10 Armored Veritech Assault Helicopter
Okay, I think I basically had to discuss the ROBOTECH helicopter mecha, the AJACS. During the Southern Cross era, the AJACS was developed from the framework of the Hover Tank to be an endo/exo atmospheric mecha with superior skills in space combat than the other fighters in the Southern Cross space forces, like the Logan. During the Robotech Masters invasion of 2031-2032, the AJACS was on the frontlines to take pressure off of the Hover Tank units, due to the AJACS being a flexible platform. During the end of the 2nd Robotech War, the Southern Cross threw their resources into a bold space strike on the alien warships, and the AJACS was front and center. One of the unique elements of the AJACS was that the mecha only transformed from fighter/helicopter mode to battloid mode, there was no Guardian mode.
These were also used during the bloody Invid Invasion, but none survived. When the Robotech Expeditionary Force left Earth, they took the AJACS alone with them, and these were seen in-use with the REF during operations on Tirol. I can still remember watching ROBOTECH during the 1980's, and seeing the AJACS for the first time. Then I remember laughing when they were in space. That is the thing with the AJACS, it could have been a cool endo-atmosphere helicopter mecha, but the show screwed it up, like much of the Masters. I always thought this mech could have been more and should have been. During my belief time using the ROBOTECH RPG, I had an AJACS pilot who served with the "Angry Hornets" all AJACS ground-attack unit. The AJACS has been a fan favorite, and they have gotten on the internet to push for Toynami to make an Masterpiece AJACS.

The Scylla Aerosystem C-21 "Dragon" Assault Ship or Gunship from AVATAR
The American military and the RDA both use the C-21 "Dragon" has an stable airborne heavy weapons platform and VOTL APS transport. This massive gunship was designed to dominate the battlespace by provides heavy fire to the battle along with transporting AMP suits into the fray. It has been bragged that the Dragon are able to level cities within several seconds, and can unleash near nuclear destruction on their targets. Given the massive expensive of the C-21, they are naturally more rare than other military aircraft, but when one shows up, the enemy has been known to run away.
While there have been many gunships, attack helicopters in sci-fi, there has been nothing like the Dragon gunship seen on-screen. During key battles in the three hour 2009 film, the C-21 Dragon brings the hammer down on the blue aliens with being flanked by an number of light inducted-fan rotor military aircrafts, like the SA-2 "Samson" and the AT-99 "Scorpion" that can provide defense and add more capability.

The A-61 "Mantis" Gunship from the Mass Effect Universe
In the Mass Effect games, one of the universal aerial war machines is the A-61 Mantis, and it occupies the role of the attack helicopter in the Mass Effect universe. The Mantis uses multi-vector thruster combined with a element zero core and mass effect fields to allow for VTOL and hovering. Most Mantis are armed with mass effect M350 machine guns in a heavier caliber with various missile types.  In both ME2 and ME3, we see examples of various races and groups using the A-61 Mantis in roles similar to modern day attack helicopters. This was especially seen during the battles of Earth. Thessia, and the STG base on Sur'Kesh. Oddly, the Mantis base chassis can be modified to allow the Mantis to be transformed into a endo-exo fighter. Mantis gunships have also been seen airdropping mechs into battle.

The Armed Ornithopters from the DUNE Universe
An "Ornithopter" is an flying machine that flying via flipping its wings, and the DUNE universe is one that features the most iconic ornithopters in science fiction. While most fans of DUNE can imagine insect-like flying machines with flapping wings, the visual attempts at ornithopters in DUNE movie, games, and mini-series were fairly normal aircraft. In the 1984 film, the various flying machines were either richly colored and decorated aircraft behaved nothing like an bird or were insect-like with roaring engines. Oddly, both featured bird-like wings, but were not seen moving. In  the 2000 Sci-Fi Channel mini-series, the ornithopter was an ducted fan aircraft that had movable flaps-wings on the back that housed the ducted fan engines. These reminded me of the GI Joe Skyhawk.However, in the miniseries, we do see these 'thopers being used for attack aircraft missions by arming them with miniguns and missiles.
It would be a video game that got the armed (or gun) ornithopter right. In the 1998 Westwood RTS computer and console game DUNE: 2000, we see the House Atreides fleet of winged attack aircraft, raining down death and destruction at the speed of a flap. In the game's cinematics, we see a masterfully designed flapping wing gunship ornithopters that fuse modern attack helicopters with ornithopter flapping wings.  What we have seen if the 1970's Jodorowsky DUNE had gotten off of the ground? From the the concept art, we see something very close to the dragonfly-like aircraft imagined by fans of the book. Maybe that is the only thing they would have gotten right in that shitty mess of an attempted film. So glad that vision of DUNE did not get made.  

The G79H-TC/MA "Pelican" Gunship Variant from HALO: 4
It seems that the iconic and beloved Pelican tactical transport of the UNSC gets changed every single time a new HALO game comes out., For HALO 4 in 2012, we see one of the greatest changes to the tactical transport. After the war, the new Pelican, the D79H-TC, was altered with hard learned lessons from the war, and injection of new technology, some rumored to be alien. As with the other Pelican transports, there is a gunship variant, and the one for the D79H-TC is the G79H-TC/MA. This gunship variant was used by the Master Chief and Cortana for their assault on the controls of the Didact's shield controls.
This section of the game highlights the new Pelican gunship and its abilities. Equipped with greater offensive punch, the G79H-TC/MA has a laser DEW system, an 70mm auto cannon, and several machine gun defensive stations for extra punch. This new Pelican is more than a match for the Covenant aerial vehicles...unlike before. Also new is side-mounted armory lockers will kinds of goodies, allowing the Chief to take the fight to the enemy with new toys. I am hoping to see more of the redesigned Pelican in HALO 5: Guardians.

The Space Ork "Deffkopta" from WH40K
I've never liked the Space Orks from Warhammer 40,000, and while they are an funny, murderous enemy, their tech is ugly and tossed together. This very true of their attack helicopter, the "dffkopta". This warbike-framed helicopter is both dangerous to the pilot as well as the enemy. While armed with various weaponry including melee, the Deffkoptas themselves are not standardized in design. Mekboys do not designed two Deffkoptas the same. These is likely the most ugly attack helicopter in science fiction.

The AV-22 "Sparrowhawk" Attack VTOL  from the HALO Wars
In the HALO Wars video game, the UNSC heavy hitting offensive aerial vehicle is the AV-22 Sparrowhawk and it is best to consider the Sparrowhawk attack VTOL the big brother to the AV-14 Hornet. Armed with linkless dual 30mm autocannons, nose-mounted M6 laser cannons, the AV-22 is designed for air-to-surface attacks and support. It is a real pity that the AV-22 Sparrowhawk never made it into HALO 3 or HALO 4 as a playable vehicle. Gunning down aliens on Earth at the controls of an AV-22 would have been epic. The Sparrowhawk was made into a Megabloks set for their HALO line.

The CIS HMP Droid Gunship from the Star Wars Universe

One of the more interesting examples of an gunship on this list is the Droid Gunship from the 3rd Prequel Star Wars film. The Confederacy of Independent Systems Heavy Missile Platform gunship is actually an endo/exo atmospheric airspeed that is armed to the goddamn teeth will all manner of missiles, repeater laser cannons. While not the fastest airspeeder, the Droid Gunship makes up for this with its weaponry, and ability to bombard a target with missiles from a stable aerial platform that could support ground units. In The Revenge of the Sith, the droid gunships are seen at the Battle of Kashyyyk, and even talking with droid General Kalani. This gunship was made into a Lego set as well. As for sci-fi gunships, the Star Wars CIS droid gunship is a nice example, but it is quite boring, and like many of the CIS droid military units, it is oddly designed, and bears none of the fear that the Skynet Hunter-Killer vehicles do.

The AV-14 Attack VTOL "Hornet"  from the HALO universe
In the 3rd HALO game, a new type of UNSC aerial attack vehicle is seen: the AV-14 Hornet. In the game, you pilot the tiny VTOL ducted fan attack endoatmospheric craft during the critical battle of Installation 00. The UNSC developed the Hornet to be recon and attack bird that can support operations and even insertion of Special Operations forces, much like the US Army AH-6 "Little Bird". To protect the lightly armored VTOL craft, soldiers can manned the skids and provide fire support, adding to the twin auto cannons and twin missile launchers. To help with incoming enemy fire, the Hornet is highly maneuverable. Truly, some of the best parts of HALO 3 is manning the Hornet, in either multiplayer or the campaign.

The Skynet VTOL HK-Model A4 Type 400c Series 400 from the Terminator universe
In the dark Terminator universe, the skies do not belong to us. Patrolling the skies are a number of aerial VTOL Hunter-Killer units armed with rapid-fire plasma cannons, missiles, and even drones. The most common aerial HK unit was the Model A4 Type 400c (seen in T1 and T2). During the war with the machines, the human resistance is hunted by these aerial Skynet units that operate as a patrol vehicle, close support to ground units, escort, and even guard unit for Skynet installations. Helping probe the darkness of the post-Judgement Day ruins is twin brilliant white spotlights with accompying sensor package. To increase the flexibility of the Model A4, one ton of extra carrying ability was built into the airframe with extra space as well.
The Model A4 is armed with an GD Model 25D3 Phased Plasma that fires 2,000 250 kilowatt pulses-per-minute that is belly-mounted on a rotating turret. Propelling the Model A4 is twin high-pressure electric driven ducted turbofan engines that allow the Model A4 is hover or move at Mach 1.4. While the HK Model A4 is well-armored, can defeat rounds up to 25mm, the pylons connecting the engines to the main airframe are not. Resistance anti-air tactics are to target the pylons and not the airframe body with rockets or even larger cannons.
Given the iconic status of the HK aerial unit, there have been seen in secondary works like books, comics, and even video games. There has never been an established name for the insect-like Skynet Hunter-Killers, and the data I used is from Chris Shield's excellent Terminator 2029 website. Since the first two good films, the other shitty Terminator films have established more HK aerial units, but none has reached the same iconic status as the original HK patrol aircraft. In the NOW Comics series that takes place in 2031, the "Sarah's Slammers" resistance group from Miami, actually captured an Model A4, and piloted it to safety after Skynet raided their base.
The comic showed that the aerial HK models had manual controls inside a cockpit that could allow a human to take control of the ship. This is laughable, of course. Why would the computer-god Skynet construct its HK aerial combat units with cockpits and controls? Anyways, the aerial Hunter-Killer seen in the Terminator universe as become an iconic of future aerial vehicles and a foundation for creators to build from.

Various Inner Sphere Attack Helicopters from the Battletech Universe
To most people, the world of Battletech is devoted to the walking tanks, or mecha. However, the armies that wage war in the Inner Sphere are envisioned as military organizations that use the concept of combined arms. Not only are there mecha, but tanks, APCs, hovercraft, dropships, fighters, and attack helicopter. It may seem odd to have attack helicopters in the 31st century battlefield that is dominated by the almighty mech, but it makes sense. Mecha is expensive and complex to build and maintain. Helicopters are not in the 31st century, but they can be strongly effective as a mecha-hunter. Much like NATO developing and deploying attack helicopters during the Cold War with the Warsaw Pact to even the odds of the Warsaw Pact tank/armored vehicle numerical superiority, the same is true of the 31st century...especially when the clans invaded in 3050. Attack helicopters were used to attack mecha and even the odds for their own mecha. This can be seen in the original Xbox Mechassault games. All manner of copters are seen in the BT universe and in the Technical Readout series.

Bubble-Ship from Oblivion (2013)
In the excellent 2013 Tom Cruise sci-fi film Oblivion, we see a rather unique sci-fi example of an attack/scout VTOL endo/exo craft: the Bubble-Ship. The Bubble-Ship was designed by Daniel Simon with interior input from Tom Cruise, who is a pilot and was made to be an futuristic tiltrotor-like vehicle. In the film, the Bubble-Ship was the primary transport and protect of Drone Tech 49 Jack Harper. His assignment was to maintain the drone fleet on Earth while preparing for the colonization of Titan, and the Bubble-Ship was heavily armed for such a light craft due to the presence of the alien Scavengers. During the climax of the film, we see Jack engage several drones with some sort of rapid-fire pulse DEW cannons mounted on the sphere cockpit module. Some sites I have seen say that the Bubble-Ship is armed with 10mm Gauss rapid-fire magnetic cannons. While the Bubble-Ship is futuristic, it does have properties that would allow it to function in the real-world, if technology allowed. The inclusion of a rear-rotor assembly was an especially nice touch.

Next Time on FWS...
It is always odd when you read an outline for a book online that is similar to one that you have been working on. This was the case when I read about Nathaniel Danes' military sci-fi novel The Last Hero. I reached out to him to see if he wanted to do an interview for FWS. I was pleased when he accepted. So, next time on FWS, we will be reviewing his first novel and discussing it with the author!


  1. I have found this blog two weeks ago and fell in love with it. As a fellow Gaming, Halo and Military History Nerd I am happy that I have found a gamer who is well-versed in military tech, concepts and history. Great articles but what do you think of ARMA III's Mi-48 Kajman?

  2. I enjoy this blog as well. I came here from the Atomic Rockets site which I also reccommend highly.

    While I salute Major Charles Carpenter and his bravery for what he did that wasn't the first time tanks were attacked from the air. The Soviet's used the IL-2M3 with 82mm unguided rockets and 23mm cannon to make top attacks on German tanks. The first time a ground attack was stopped by air power alone was on 8 July 1943 at Kursk.

  3. Really informative post. Thank you for sharing. I need to prepare a case study on this same topic. I planned to assign the work to some online case study essay writing service . But your post may help me to prepare the case study. Thank you sooo much.

  4. Another great article, thank U!

    The Airwolf! What a nostalgic show! As kids I and my brother were crazy about aircrafts. We didn’t had Airwolf TV show in the Israeli station so we tuned the TV set to the Jordanian station's frequency. Didn't understood English or the Arabic subtitles but who care? Firing, explosions, dogfights – all like Esperanto… an international language!

    To the examples list I would add two tiltrotors:
    The Quinjet of Marvel universe, the workhorse of S.H.I.E.L.D
    The vertibird of Fallout universe, used by the Enclave for tactical transport and CAS.


    1. Vertibird looks really nice, but... They are saying that it is tiltwing, but how can it fly with that small wings?

  5. William, are you playing fallout games?

  6. I'm missing Command & Conquer's Orca :)


  7. I used to know the stunt pilot for 'Airwolf'. It was his face you'd see during the often-used shot of looking into the helicopter from the front. So some fun background stuff. The aircraft was a Bell helicopter with numerous panels and hydraulic systems to make the guns and missiles pop out. These would constantly break and/or fall off. During filming over a lake, the operator in the back hit the switch to lower the missile launcher. The pilot felt a thunk and the operator started cussing. "What happened?" "The missile thingy fell off. It's at the bottom of the lake."

    This was one reason for the repeated use of the same flight shots during the show. Lol

  8. Man, these are some great stories! I will have to share them with a fellow teacher who LOVES Airwolf!
    I am not playing Fallout...I do not have an Xbox One. I badly want one...but the Gods have not been that kind to me. I would like to...I played Fallout, Fallout 2, and even Fallout 3

  9. Glad to see "The War in 2020" getting a mention. What a great read. The M-100 slung a rail gun and carried troops making it a bad ass Osprey/Hind hybrid. There are a lot of great weapons in the book, caseless ammunition, Laser weapons, SAM equiped MBTs.

    Mild spoiler ahead.

    Two scenes stand out though
    The interregation of the A.I and the effects of the radio frequency weapon.

    1. In retrospect the description for the Japanese attack Vtols sounds like the Eurocopter ( now Airbus ) X3

  10. Here's one that I'm a little surprised didn't get mentioned.

    Phalanx MP-18 Dragon


    You'll have to scroll down a bit to get to it.

  11. Love IT.
    just for S&G's should mention that Bell is not the only one looking into future rotorcraft designs Sikorsky now Part of Lockheed Martin is looking into a Compound Coaxial rotor helicopter with a pusher prop and the Russian Kamov firm maker of Coaxial helicopters like the KA50 are also looking into Pusher props on there Coaxial Rotor choppers.

    Now lets get in this Attack helicopters is something of a loose term. There are scouts and then there are straight up antitank Choppers and then there are Makeshift up gunned choppers
    Scouts Tend to be lighter helicopters with a crew of maybe 2 they can be either converted form light utility choppers like the Jet Ranger or purpose built strongly resembling full attack helicopters. Examples The Little bird, OH58D Kiowa Warrior, S97 Raider, Z9/ AS365 Dauphin and tandem seaters like the Kawasaki OH-1 Ninja, Z19 and RAH66.

    Then you have the Anti tank Choppers These are as the name implies meant to eat tanks for breakfast. AH64E,Tiger helicopter, Mi 28 Havok ( or as I affectionately call it the Rat Faced Chopper), KA50/KA52.
    with the Addition of sensors like the millimeter Wave Radar on the AH64D/E Some of these have absorbed the scout role. The Critical for this model vs a tandem seat Scout is that the true antitank chopper carries normally double the missiles and rockets of a scout and normally has a medium caliber (20MM-50MM) Cannon. One of my Scifi Favs of this class is the GITS Jigabachi.

    In Vietnam and among armies who do not need to fear tanks Upgunned transport choppers are a popular system. Normally packing Rockets and missiles as well as Machine guns and even light cannons these are regular choppers turned flying rambo. the downside is though it adds drag and the more weapons the less personal.
    Compensating for this the Russians Created the Unique Mi24 Hind basically BMP crossed with a Mi8 Hip. A chopper Often Improved on but never really competed with. No other Chopper in production is like it . It has all the features of a Antitank chopper, And a Transport but still it makes sacrifices it only packs 8 armed troops and the tail stabilizer is paper thin.

  12. You forgot the film Moon 44!